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Thursday, March 31, 2011

List off

You know that website I previously quoted that said men can’t possibly be thinking about sex all time because they’re also thinking about sports, food and work? Well, according to other websites, when men think about those things, they’re being romantic.

The website says a survey of 2,000 people conducted by a British e-tailer determined that “cooking a meal without being asked” and “listening about her day at work” are the top two things a fellah can do to convey his hunka hunka burnin’ love.

And a columnist for Yahoo’s Associated suggested that gals who want to show their affection would do well to spring for a couple of tickets to a sporting event.

Damn. This is easier than it seems. Until you look a little closer.

Newslite’s survey produced two lists: “Odd Things Men Think Are Romantic” and “What Women Actually Find Romantic.”

You know what’s coming: The lists don’t mesh very well.

For one thing, men think ironing, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, picking up and doing laundry are romantic. None of that, it turns out, gets women’s juices flowing. They want that hot meal.

Seriously. Cooking—and without being asked—is the only chore on the distaff list. Still, I can’t imagine a man will make his lady feel more loved by doing less work around the house.

Also, women in the survey didn’t seem too impressed by men who’ll watch chick flicks and let them control the TV remote. Ways a dude can score points, the dudettes said, included offering to watch the kids so she can shop, holding the door for her when she’s heading out to the mall and making her a mix tape during the time intervening.

Not of songs he thinks she’d like. Of her favorite songs. Bonus if the mix tape is an anniversary present.

“The worrying thing,” Newslite said, “is husbands and boyfriends actually think they're being romantic when they let their partner watch their favourite soap on TV, but they're just being courteous.”

Being courteous isn’t romantic? Isn’t holding a door for someone also being courteous? Hell, I do that for people I’ve never met and have no intention of ever being romantically involved with.

The Associated Content column has a different take on the subject, telling women what they should do if they want to send romantic signals to their men. The No. 1 tip is “leave a cute note” on his clipboard so he’ll see it at work or jammed into his wallet to find when he’s paying for his morning latte on the way.

That’s fine. But in the Newslite survey, “leave a cute note” is something “Women Actually Find Romantic.” It didn’t make the men’s list.

It almost seems as if these two sources are suggesting that if women want to do things that men find romantic, they should be cooking, vacuuming and do the laundry.

Man, I do not want to go there. Why don’t we just say it’s nice when people do nice things for each other and leave it at that?

And when people do nice things for people they love, maybe that’s what romantic is all about.

(P.S. Mary Jo—please leave a comment telling all these wonderful ManWARriors that I cook, vacuum and do the laundry—and am willing to watch a home decorating show now and then, as long as I get to keep the remote.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thinking about usual

Everyone’s heard the Alfred Lord Tennyson quote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

My question is: Really? Just in spring? After all, everyone also knows that men think about sex constantly. Or, at least, nine times a minute, which is pretty danged close to constantly.

Could be I’m confusing sex and love here. Or maybe men think about sex all the time, but love only muscles its way into the mix from April through June.

Or maybe there’s something else going on.

“The idea that men think about sex every seven seconds, like the claim that we only use ten percent of our brains,” Psychology Today says, “is often repeated but rarely sourced.” The magazine notes that, according to the Kinsey Report, fifty-four percent of men think about sex every day or several times a day, forty-three percent a few times a week or month, and four percent less than once a month.

The website What Do Men Really says men can’t possibly be thinking about sex all time, what with sports, food, bills and work keeping brain cells occupied.

“Having constant thoughts of sex has nothing to do with a lack of character or maturity,” the site says. “In men, ‘thinking’ about sex happens almost unconsciously. Sometimes they look at a curvy girl and have thoughts like ‘wow she’s hot’…without even realizing that this reaction happened. Men undress women in their mind almost unconsciously, too, without any real intention. It just happens.”

Hmmm. What study determined all that?

, no doubt a more credible source, says a Florida State University survey of studies showed most men under sixty think about sex at least once a day. The survey also said women typically fantasize about sex about half as often as men. Which means that if men think about sex every seven seconds…well, you do the math.

Anyway, what got me thinking about all this thinking wasn’t so much Tennyson as Borgman. As in Jim Borgman, author of the comic strip Zits. A few weeks ago Jeremy, the sixteen-year-old star, stared blankly into space while three bikini-clad babes used his cranial cavity as a hot tub. Jeremy’s mom said, “I can’t image what’s on his mind.” Jeremy’s dad answered, “Seriously?”

Oddly, hot tubs play a prominent role in Fast Lane. I just read a key tub scene in my writers group and got thumbs up all around.

Yeah, I’ve had my share of Jacuzzi daydreams. And not just at this time of the year.

But, honestly…every seven seconds? What with sports and food and all, who has the time?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are you…talkin’ to me?

A wise person I know hates when the conflict in a book she’s reading could easily be resolved if the two dingbats who are at odds would simply talk about their problems. I get what she’s saying. But then, doesn’t lack of communication cause all kinds of problems in real life?

Talking it out. A thing that, ironically, is easier said than done.

Along comes a book called 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, in which University of Michigan research scientist Terri Orbuch tells us talking more will improve your romantic life.

And by talking more, she means ten minutes a day. Not ten more minutes. Ten minutes total.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. You can’t just drag out a discussion about who’s going to pick up the kids and who’s going to pay the bills until you’ve met the requirement. You have to, for instance, ask something like, “If you could pick up the kids in any vehicle from all of history, what would it be and why?” Or say, “The Highlights subscription is up again, and even though one of our kids is in college and the other graduated from college two years ago, I’d like to continue because Goofus and Gallant and The Timbertoes are my favorite cartoons of all time, and here’s why…”

Orbuch calls that “self-disclosure,” a.k.a. “sharing your private feelings, fears, doubts and perceptions with your partner.” And if you’re fifty and telling someone you love you can’t live without your monthly dose of Goofus and Gallant, you’re really laying it out there.

Expressions of love and support are good, too, as are actions or words “that make your partner feel loved, cared for or special.” These can include a random hug, saying thank your or buying your partner’s favorite food, even if the favorite food is green beans.

Or maybe, especially if the favorite food is green beans.

At any rate, doesn’t this all seem to come from a dusty file in the back of the cabinet labeled “Duh”? And yet, here’s a $26 book that gets all five-star reviews on Amazon from people who can’t say enough about what great advice that ten-minute rule is.

I don’t blame the author. It just amazes me that people need a book to tell them they have to communicate with someone if they want the relationship to keep going. For God’s sake, the word simple is right there in the title!

Except maybe this only helps prove that talking ain’t all that simple.

In real life, at least. Maybe our expectations are a little different in fiction. It’s probably not a good sign when you find yourself screaming, “Just freakin’ say it already!” to a ream of paper in your lap.

The way I address that in Fast Lane is by making it impossible at first for Lara to share certain secrets with Clay without blowing her cover. And later, when it seems like blowing her cover might not be such a bad idea, those same secrets look even more sinister.

Fun times. And pass me the green beans.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guru hoodoo

Good gurus provide sound advice and insights into how to live well. Bad gurus, not so much.

But even good advice from a good guru can be problematic if it’s misunderstood.

Take this example from the files of sex advice columnist Dan Savage. A reader recently complained that her boyfriend nodded in agreement during therapy sessions they attended to get over an affair she had, but did a 180 later because of something he heard in a Dan Savage podcast. She signed her letter as "Your No-Good Counsel."

Could this be any more complicated? They’re not married. She cheated. He’s a flip-flopper. And it’s all an advice columnist’s fault.

Savage said it sounded like the boyfriend was still angry, which was understandable, but also jerking her around because he can’t forgive her, which was unjustifiable.

Sounds to me as though what’s going on is a romance novel being playing out in the flesh. Of course, while we all know a romance novel with these elements would have a happy ending, there’s no telling where things will lead in the real world.

Which may be one reason romance novels are so popular.

At any rate, I’m glad I caught this installment of “Savage Love,” not because I like reading about other people’s sadness, but because the reason behind this couple’s sadness is very much like the reason Fast Lane’s hero and heroine get together in the first place.

Lara is convinced her marriage broke down not because her ex is a jerk, but because he was influenced by this jerk Clay Creighton, whose advice seems to give men the right to treat women like objects. That makes Lara so angry she burns with the desire for revenge.

Which, to me, sounds a lot like what’s going on in Your No-Good Counsel’s mind.

Good advice misunderstood can be a problem. But good advice intentionally taken out of context and twisted around to justify bad behavior is a lot worse.

Of course, “worse” is a good thing when it comes to creating dramatic tension in fiction. You just have to wish it didn’t happen so often in real life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Of minds and men

Just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and I wholeheartedly recommend it even though it is 440 pages long. It’s about two black maids in Mississippi in 1963 and a white woman who creates a stir writing about the life of black maids in Mississippi in 1963.

It's not a particularly romantic book. It does, however, have a passage that is fixed in my memory forever.

One character, Celia Foote, is a rube—“white trash” is how someone in the book describes her—and doesn’t know the “proper” way to dress for the formal holiday benefit dance. The other ladies are demure in “swaths of material that hide their bodies” and “ruffles that clutch at their throats,” but Celia…well, this is what her maid, Minny, has to say:

“Oh, my Lord. I might as well be Little Stevie Wonder I am so blinded by that dress. Hot pink and silver sequins glitter from her extra-large boobies all the way down to her hot pink toes…She is rouged, painted (and) one leg peeks out in a high, thigh-baring slit.”

Now, her husband comes from the side of tracks opposite Celia’s, so he knows this is non-conforming attire. “Celia,” he says, “you think that dress might be a little too…um…open at the top?”

“Oh, Johnny,” she responds, “you men don’t know the first thing about fashion.”

And then they arrive at the cotillion.

Husbands drinking their whiskeys stop in mid-sip, spotting this pink thing at the door. It takes a second for the image to register. They stare, but don’t see, not yet. But as it turns real—real skin, real cleavage—their faces slowly light up. They all seem to be thinking the same thing—Finally…But then, feeling the fingernails of their wives, also staring, digging into their arms, their foreheads wrinkle. Their eyes hint remorse as marriages are scorned (she never lets me do anything fun), youth is remembered (why didn’t I go to California that summer?), first loves are recalled (Roxanne…). All of this happens in a span of about five seconds.

But wait—it gets better!

“Look at the chest on that one,” an old geezer says. “Feel like I’m not a year over seventy-five looking at that those things.”

The geezer’s wife lets him feel the brunt of her displeasure, and he says, “Well, what do you want her to do, Eleanor, leave them at home?”

Man, oh man. I cannot read this passage enough times.

Throughout the entire book I had no trouble believing that what Stockett’s black characters were thinking was dead-on. I mean, I don’t know for sure, but I trusted her all the way.

But so accurately does she portray what would be happening in the mind of every heterosexual male in a situation like this that I have to wonder if she...had some help.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yay for me

Fast Lane is now 57,123 words long. More significant, the last two are “the” and “end.”

It feels great to make it all the way through but, of course, I’m not really done. I have a pretty good blueprint and comments from the wonderful members of my writers group, so I’m as excited about moving into phase two as I am about finishing phase one.

Sometimes it seems I’ve been writing Fast Lane forever. By the time I started this blog last July, I’d already been pounding away at it for several months.

And thinking about it for several years. Twenty-four, to be exact.

The first time I started writing Fast Lane was for a night course in screenwriting at Marquette University. I never finished—and I’m glad I didn’t.

While some elements survived the decades, the plot I had in mind back then now feels convoluted and pretentious. What I have now is delightfully unpredictable and refuses to take itself too seriously.

Still, I love how certain themes seemed to develop by themselves as I proceeded through the first draft. I’m not going to name those themes, because there’s a good chance anyone else who reads Fast Lane will likely find different ones. Suffice it to say that the experience so far has been highly satisfying.

For the next month or so, I'll be focusing on making some suggested changes to a futuristic sci-fi/action screenplay called The Sky Below. But I'll still be a Man Writing a Romance. Fast Lane slow-cooked in my subconscious, working out plot points and character arcs, for more than twenty years. Twenty more days in the crock pot of my mind will no doubt help bring all the flavors together even more.

In the meantime, thank you for reading ManWAR What with topics just throwing themselves at me almost every minute of every day, I will continue to post here—and you’ll be the first to know when I again click on the file marked Fast Lane.doc.

(BTW: If anyone you know in Hollywood is looking for a futuristic sci-fi/action screenplay that was a Slamdance semifinalist and a Los Angeles Film Festival Honorable Mention winner, tell them to contact me at

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stormy whether

The headline read: “Center of NU sex storm.”

Attention-getting, for sure, though a verb would have been nice.

NU, in this case, is Northwestern University, a Big Ten school on the shores of Lake Michigan a little north of Chicago. “Sex” and “university” appearing in the same sentence…when has that ever happened before?

Well, context matters, and the referred-to storm comes, as it were, after two human sexuality class guest speakers wanted to demonstrate to dozens of students the workings of a...what? “Bedroom accessory?” “Personal massager?” How many euphemisms are there for “dildo attached to a reciprocating saw”?

At any rate, the professor initially considered putting the ixnay on these ijinkshay, but “just a little while earlier he’d been thinking about the knee-jerk negativity so many people have about sex, about sex research,” Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote. “As a man who believes everything is worth studying, he had to wonder why he was hesitating.”

“I could not come up with a good reason,” he said afterward, “so I said OK.”

Now, as someone who’s taught college courses, I could give this guy lots of good reasons to hesitate all the way to the point of just saying no. Seriously, even though many of the young ladies in my journalism writing classes thought it was a good idea to show up looking like Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ, I was the one who had to pass a course on sexual harassment every semester.

Still, the prof has a point. Sex is everywhere. The Internet. Movies. Magazines. Popular songs. Posters. Direct mail. TV shows. TV ads. TV magazines. TV movies. Movies on demand on TV. It’s in the malls. It lines the highways. It’s even on born-again Christian radio. Really—have you ever listened to one of those stations? Those people don’t seem to think about anything but sex—and no wonder, given how much of it there is in the Bible.

Why is sex everywhere? Because it sells, sure. But it sells because we like it. It's fascinating. It makes us feel good. No matter how much we kick and scream and protest and fight, we loves us some sex.

It’s apparently even all right in a college classroom…as long as it’s not actually happening.

Maybe that’s the problem down there in Evanston, Illinois, in the heart of “the real America.” We don’t mind sex going public, as long as it’s confined to pixels and paper. But start baring actual skin, and you’ve got a problem.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing. What would we fantasize about if there were no taboos?

I don’t remember where I heard it, but I nonetheless remember hearing this tidbit o’ wisdom: “No one should object to your sexual fantasies; your sexual fantasies are where you can do things you wouldn’t do for real.”

Think about it: In that class there was, Schmich wrote, “A man. A woman. A dildo on the base of a power saw." Was it really necessary to turn the thing on?